Seldom has a vehicle polarised opinion among my motoring colleagues in the way that the Geely Emgrand EC7 has.
Some feel that the new “luxury” sub-brand from Geely remains a cheap and nasty Chinese vehicle, while others point out that the quality has improved significantly and that it offers a good value-for-money option for budget-conscious buyers.
The casting vote therefore lies with me after spending a week behind the wheel of our test car.
Our test vehicle, the Emgrand Luxury, is the cheapest vehicle of its size and engine capacity (a 1.8-litre petrol with 102kW and 172Nm) and comes with a very alluring R159 990 price tag.
To put this into perspective, direct competitors cost between 80 and 100 grand more, examples being the Hyundai Elantra 1.8 Executive with 110kW (R260 900), and the Chevrolet Cruz Sedan 1.8 LS with 104kW (R240 500).
Get the picture?
Geely has created the Emgrand as a sub-brand much in the way that Toyota created Lexus, implying that it is more upmarket than other Geely models, but while it is undoubtedly a big step forward for the Chinese manufacturer, it can hardly be considered a luxury brand. The question then is whether a buyer would opt for the Geely with its value-for-money proposition or rather pay much more for an established brand with better perceived build quality and plusher cabins.
ROOMY AND WELL APPOINTED
In the Emgrand’s favour is that it is spacious and has a good spec level for the price. The cabin has ample space both up front and in the rear, while the boot is large and able to accommodate 680 litres of baggage. But the boot lid has to be opened completely, otherwise it closes again which happened to me on more than one occasion when the bootlid smacked me on the back of my head, eliciting strong language.
Up front the cabin is neat and uncluttered with plenty of hard plastics and cream leather seats and the odour that one seems to find in these Chinese vehicles. Perhaps it’s the plastics, but maybe it’s time for Geely to add an air freshener al la the French cars.
A common complaint among all those who drove the Emgrand, and quite possibly a deal-breaker for many, is the awkward driving position. The seat is positioned quite high so that you are perched on the seat with your head fairly close to the roof, and even when the steering wheel is moved to its highest position it still almost touches your knees. The steering column is only moveable for height and really needs a reach-adjustment as well.
Speaking of steering wheels, there are no satellite controls for the audio system on it, but perhaps that’s understandable given the competitive price tag.
I quite liked the neat fascia, with the audio system and climate controls being easy to use. The trip meter displays nice-to-have things such as distance to next refill of the petrol tank, but surprisingly doesn’t give average fuel consumption.
ENGINE’S GOOD ENOUGH
The 1.8-litre petrol engine is sprightly enough for cruising at the speed limit and above on the highway, although it had a slight dead spot just after pull away. But an irritating warning chime every time the car touched 120km/h drove me up the wall.
Fuel consumption was fair and not far off the claimed figure of 7.6 l/100km as we attained a figure of 8.0 l/100km in a mix of urban and open road driving.
The steering is very light which is fine at slow speeds in heavy traffic, but at higher speeds it doesn’t load up for directional stability, making it not suitable for sudden changes in direction.
Auto lights are a standard feature, yet we noticed that although the headlamps would go on when, for instance, driving under a bridge, they wouldn’t go on at dusk and it had to be quite dark before the lights would be activated. The lights also seemed not as bright as we’ve become accustomed to in most cars.
When it come to Chinese brands, safety concerns are something that comes to mind. The Emgrand is a big step forward with this, having scored 4 out of a maximum 5 stars in the stringent Euro-NCAP collision tests.
The Emgrand comes with a 5-year/100 000km warranty and two year roadside assistance. Service plans are optional and a 2-year/ 60 000km service plan costs R6 000.
A good value-for-money vehicle for families who don’t want to break the bank, although it doesn’t match the marketing hype as a “luxury” brand as it lacks the refinement found in such vehicles.
But the Emgrand wins hands down on price, offering features found in much more expensive vehicles. And a saving of between R80–100K over rivals such as the Hyundai Elantra and Chevrolet Cruz is a big deal at a time when motorists are feeling the pinch. -Star Motoring